The Tornados defeated the Kennewick Lions, 36-27, on Saturday, Nov. 19 in their closest game of the season as they punched their ticket to the state semifinals for the first time in the program’s history.
Yelm totaled 512 yards of offense and were led by Damian Aalona with 304 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Head coach Jason Ronquillo described the feeling of advancing to the semifinals as euphoric, knowing the team didn’t play its best game of football.
“Damian Aalona did a great job of managing our offense,” coach Ronquillo said. “Down the stretch of the game, it came down to making plays when we needed them most and our guys came through.”
To start off the game, the Tornados elected to receive the opening kick, but gave the Lions a free possession when Yelm didn’t recover Kennewick’s bouncing kick. Kennewick started its first offensive possession deep in Tornado territory and Yelm forced a four-and-out and turnover on downs.
After a long, methodical drive of over 10 plays, junior quarterback Aalona found Kyler Ronquillo in the corner of the endzone for a touchdown, who came down with the ball after catching it in triple coverage, bringing the score to 6-0 after a failed two-point try.
The Tornados’ defense then shut down another Kennewick drive, forcing a punt by the Lions. Yelm was able to chew some clock on their second drive of the game, but penalties caused them to punt the ball right back to Kennewick.
Senior linebacker and three time South Sound Conference Defensive MVP Ray Wright intercepted a Kennewick pass and returned it for a 23-yard touchdown. Yelm converted its two-point try after a Wright rush to extend the lead to 14-0.
With a new quarterback in the game, Kennewick responded to Wright’s pick-six with a 30-yard touchdown pass of its own, cutting Yelm’s lead to 14-7 late in the second quarter.
All it took was two plays for Yelm to find the endzone in response. Aalona unloaded a pass to a wide open Aden Schaler down the Kennewick sideline, who took the reception for 74 yards and a touchdown. Yelm led 20-7 after a failed two-point attempt.
Coming out of halftime, Yelm’s defense forced a turnover on downs despite an efficient drive by the Lions.
Despite several penalties that could have been drive killers for Yelm, they put together another methodical 11-play drive to find the endzone. The long drive was capped off by a two-yard touchdown brought in by junior running back Brayden Platt. Kyler Ronquillo converted the two-point try to bring the score to 28-7.
Kennewick then found the endzone after a seven-play touchdown drive, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Lions made their point after touchdown kick and cut the lead to 28-14.
After several Yelm penalties, Kennewick forced a punt and the Lions took over possession. In just two plays, Kennewick found the end zone from 17 yards out for their third passing touchdown of the game. After a successful PAT, Kennewick trailed Yelm by just seven points, 28-21.
Yelm emphasized its rushing attack to drive the field yet again. The Tornados rushed six out of seven plays in a row to find the endzone for the final time in the quarterfinal matchup. Platt mowed his way over several Kennewick defenders on a 29-yard touchdown rush, his second touchdown of the game. Yelm converted a critical two point-try to bring the score to 36-21.
After a drive of 11 plays, Kennewick scored its fourth passing touchdown of the game to cut the lead down to 36-27.
After a failed onside kick attempt, the Tornados had all but won the game. After a first down conversion, Yelm kneeled out the remaining time on the clock to secure their trip to the State 3A semifinals.
Their rushing attack came on strong late in the game, led behind Platt’s 20 carries for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Kyler Ronquillo added another 44 yards on eight carries on the ground. He also caught nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
Schaler had his strongest game of the season, as the senior collected 107 yards and a touchdown on three catches. Platt added an additional 57 receiving yards during the contest.
Defensively, Wright led the Tornados with nine tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a pick-six. He was followed by William Carreto, who finished with seven tackles and a sack. Juniors Isaiah Patterson and Onyx Carter each contributed another seven tackles to Yelm’s defensive efforts.
Up next, the Tornados will travel to Art Crate Field at Bethel High School to play the Bellevue Wolverines at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26. The teams previously met in the 2018 state quarterfinals, where Bellevue defeated Yelm, 37-20.
“We’re going to need the entire community there to get us over the top,” Yelm High School’s Athletic Director Rob Hill said.
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